January 15, 2005
Knights hottest hockey draw
The London team tops minor league attendance.
By JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

The London Knights are not only the hottest ticket in the Ontario Hockey League, they're the biggest draw in North America. The Knights, averaging 9,027 spectators through 24 games at the John Labatt Centre this season, lead all seven minor hockey leagues at the turnstiles.

Capacity at the JLC is 9,090.

To illustrate this accomplishment, there are 142 teams in the seven leagues: 20 in the OHL; 20 in the Western league; 16 in the Quebec league; 27 in the American league; 28 in the East Coast league; 17 in the Central league; 14 in the United league.

"This illustrates for a lot of people who really don't know us, but what we've known for a long time, is some of the great markets we have in the OHL and the CHL," said OHL commissioner David Branch, who is also president of the Canadian Hockey League.

"This is also a real positive statement about the efforts of the city to develop the John Labatt Centre and put that with the work the Hunters have done in putting together a very fan-friendly and outstanding hockey product, and it's a winning combination.

"This just reinforces the importance of a facility and the game being played the way it should be played," Branch said yesterday.

Knights general manager Mark Hunter, who bought the team with his brother Dale, the head coach, in May 2000, said they knew this area is a great major junior supporter.

"They've always been very supportive of the London Knights before Dale Hunter and Mark Hunter owned the hockey club," Mark Hunter said. "We always knew we had a great fan base and it expanded from there, going to the John Labatt Centre, then with the good hockey club, then with the Memorial Cup (being awarded to London)."

Attendance has gone up across the CHL every year for the last decade, but Branch said that while some major junior teams playing in NHL markets may have benefited by the lockout, he doesn't think that's the reason for the attendance figures in other centres, such as London.

"We always felt the lockout would not be a positive in terms of suddenly everyone rushing to watch OHL and CHL hockey," he said.

"We are fortunate that in the centres where the OHL is No. 1, we enjoy tremendous fan interest and what's happened in London would have happened with or without the lockout.

"What the lockout has done is provide a greater opportunity for people to understand what happens in the OHL and the CHL and the good-news story we shared with London when they went on the consecutive-game unbeaten streak."

The Knights' run of 31 games without a loss is a CHL record.

Given the demand for tickets, the Knights could easily fill another thousand seats.

"You go on eBay and you see tickets for sale," Mark Hunter said. "I'm wondering by law what I can do about that, but there were two tickets for (Thursday's game with Kitchener) going for $100."

The same tickets sold at the box office for $14 apiece.

"That puts in perspective what is going on," Hunter said. "People are looking for tickets. It's been quite a ride from a hockey standpoint. The product has been good and the fans have responded really well."

Branch said what's happened in London justifies the decision by the OHL's Memorial Cup site selection committee last May to award the tournament to the Knights.

ATTENDANCE LEADERS

League Team Average

Ontario Hockey League London Knights 9,027

American Hockey League Manchester Monarchs 8,874

Western Hockey League Calgary Hitmen 8,771

Central Hockey League Oklahoma City Blazers 7,716

Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Halifax Mooseheads 7,435

United Hockey League Fort Wayne Komets 7,279

East Coast Hockey League Gwinnett Gladiators 6,285


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